VANCOUVER – Voters in British Columbia head to the polls on Tuesday as the Liberals aim to cling to power and the New Democrats try to take it back after 16 years in Opposition.
Experts say the emergence of the Green party for the first time in Canadian provincial politics has injected some defining moments into an otherwise ho-hum campaign.
Green Leader Andrew Weaver was in both debates during the month-long campaign with Liberal Leader Christy Clark and the NDP’s John Horgan.
Here’s what else experts said about the issues that they think have resonated with voters:
Hamish Telford, political science professor at the University of the Fraser Valley:
“We have not had a provincial election in Canada where the Green party has played a strong third-party role. Even with Elizabeth May at the federal level she has not got into all the election debates so the Greens make this a very different election in Canada, and certainly in B.C.”
Telford said the Liberals have run a “hard and cold campaign” by repeating the message of lowering taxes, controlling government spending and growing the economy. “There’s no real love in this message.
“Overall, the NDP is running a better campaign than they did the last time. John Horgan has been a vigorous campaigner in the sense that he’s attacking the Liberal record.”
Telford said Weaver “has presented himself as a credible alternative to the traditional parties. That’s a big stride for a new party in the system.”
Telford said Canada’s first Green member of a legislature is aiming to gain at least three more seats to get more resources in the house.
Jeanette Ashe, political science professor at Douglas College in New Westminster, B.C.
“B.C. is historically a polarized system and the fact that the Greens have done well makes us consider whether or not we might be moving toward a three-party system,” Ashe said.
“The consequence of the growing popularity of the Greens is that it’s pushing the other parties to reconsider their environmental policies.”
Ashe said the Greens’ opposition to the doubling of the Kinder Morgan pipeline from Alberta to B.C., a project supported by the Liberals, forced the New Democrats to state their stance against it. “For some prospective voters, their position had been unclear.”
“All the parties are trying to appear more environmentally progressive, and I think that’s just in response to the growing popularity of the Green party. The voters are demanding it.”
Ashe said gender diversity is increasingly becoming a big factor for political parties around the world in an effort to represent all constituents. When one party leads the way with a diverse slate, as the federal Liberals did in the 2015 election, a “contagion effect” leads opponents to react, she said.
The NDP said it has the highest number of female candidates, at 51 per cent.
The Greens said 37 per cent of their candidates are women. “We recognize that this is not nearly good enough in terms of gender parity,” the party said in a statement. “This is an issue all parties face as there are systemic barriers to women running for office. We can and we must do better to support more women running with the Greens.”
The Liberal party did not respond to requests for information on the percentage of female candidates on its slate, but a count of its candidates suggests 41 per cent are women.
Michael Prince, political science professor at the University of Victoria:
“The televised debate is clearly the single-most important political event in terms of making or breaking reputations or shifting moments. For Andrew Weaver, it was a great night. Greens were treated as a co-equal party. In the past, the Greens have been almost an afterthought.”
“He’s on the side of the angels in terms of deciding not to take any corporate or union donations in the last year,” Prince said of Weaver in a province often described as the “Wild West” because of its lack of strict rules around accepting donations.
“I think Andrew Weaver is morphing from a scientist, an academic, into a political performer or a politician. Their platform has matured over the first two or three elections. They’re clearly not just playing to the environmental file. They’ve got some good policy ideas on education, health care, and housing.”
Richard Johnston, political science professor at the University of British Columbia:
“This is an election singularly lacking in defining moments,” he said, adding the Greens have steadily gained credibility as a viable alternative to the two traditional parties.
“I do have a sense that people are really tired of the premier, and that includes the business community. She doesn’t have the credibility that (former Liberal premier) Gordon Campbell did. On the other hand, there isn’t anything about the NDP that makes them somehow more credible than they have been over the decades.”
“If I were a New Democrat I’d be pretty damn angry about Andrew Weaver,” Johnston said. “Weaver gets treated as a progressive, and of course there is much in the Green program that is progressive, but it is a kind of soft progressivism that does not address hard questions of poverty, inequality, the workplace, the redistributive elements of taxation, the stuff that goes to class divisions in society.”
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